Different Strokes

euphorbia, photograph

“It is good to be humbled by seeing someone’s work that is both very accomplished and very different than our own. Who knows, it may open a door creatively for you.”

– Brooks Jensen

How much time do you spend looking at work that is “very different” than your own? I think this is an important question. I suspect many of us would have to answer, ‘not much’. Why is this?

It is so easy to surround ourselves with artists whose work is similar to our own and there are many reasons for this. We may be trying to develop a style or technique similar to theirs. We understand their work and it feels familiar to us. We know where to go to see it. Our friends share our appreciation of the work. The list goes on. Behind all of these reasons is a desire to feel comfortable. It’s reassuring to see other artists, especially good ones, going down the same path that we see ourselves on.

But inevitably we encounter dry spells, periods where our creative juices have deserted us. We need to prime the creative pump again. Everyone has strategies to get themselves on track again, excited about what they’re doing. One strategy that works for me is to look at all sorts of art, and particularly the work of photographers who do really different things than I do. I may not “like” their work, I may not be motivated to try what they do myself. But sometimes these angular departures from the path are what we need to kick start our imaginations. Occasionally you will get an idea that you can incorporate into your own work and sometimes you might even be motivated to actually spend a little time on this new path you’ve encountered. These little temporary excursions down artistic branch roads can be invigorating.

In fact, I enjoy this activity so much, I recommend that you don’t limit it to times you feel you need inspiration or a jump start. After all, we all would benefit from this all the time. Make it a frequent practice to seek out work that is different than what you think your interests are limited to.
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9 responses to “Different Strokes

  1. I think looking at others’ work, especially work that is quite different from one’s own, is essential to developing the eye. Would-be writers are told to read, read, read and write, write, write. Artists, too, have to look, look, look outside themselves and not just to stimulate the imagination but to come back to their own easels and do a proper critical appraisal.

    • Maureen

      I almost feel that the more different the work I look at is from mine, the more it helps develop my eye. I guess it has to work harder and responds the way any other muscle would.

  2. Bob, I didn’t realize you had a blog until I saw your comment on John Barclay’s. I have really loved looking over your work and reading your thought-provoking comments. I found about John through Brenda Tharp and attended one of his workshops. I have been delighted to be able to stay in touch with his work through his blog. (Bob lives in the same area as I do, and has done some scanning and printing for me, so I’m embarrassed I haven’t kept up with him.)

    • Diane

      Glad you found me! In some ways the web makes the world smaller, in other ways it makes it bigger, almost overwhelming! Sometimes we take a circuitous route to find what’s in our own backyard. But along the way we discover some cool things!

  3. This is what is great about the internet, Diane! – finding our way to new creative people and having our eyes and minds expanded with their thoughts and vision. But Bob had to tell me about his blog so don’t feel bad. Sometimes there’s not enough time in a day to seek out who might have a blog so I’m grateful he wrote to me.

    Great post, Bob. As we chatted about this on the phone the other day, visual stretching is great for priming that creative pump. I have used Lensbabies for that purpose, as well as montages assembled on the computer, and motion studies on just about everything. But I think it’s good to go beyond that as well, as you suggested, studying the work of others that just might spark something new inside of us.

    • Brenda

      Ahhh, Lensbabies… One of my favorite tools to pick up when I don’t know what to do…

      Another way to prime the pump I’ve run across recently is “photo challenges” where you are tasked with doing a certain type of photography over a period of time. Requires a lot of self-discipline but probably pays off. Check out photochallenge.org for an example.

  4. Thought-provoking as always, Bob. I remember a fellow student in art school (an art history major, I think) saying he wasn’t studying to love art more, he was studying to love more art.

    I’ve tried to take that to heart, and had some recent breakthroughs in my mindset.

    I still have a problem with Kinkade, though, although I think that the migraines I get when I see his “products” come more from his marketing scheme than his work, per se.

  5. Like everyone has said, what better way to expand one’s envelope, than to look and see what others are doing. I find a lot of inspiration out there.

    This image you posted is lovely, like a collection of jewels. My own (limited) experience with the Lensbaby is that it is tough to master. You have done very well here. Keep up your great work.

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